Bowmanville is a Chicago-based quintet with a rather unique frontline of guitar, harmonica, and violin that straddles the gypsy jazz music of Django Reinhardt and those associated with “Hot Club” sonics, and Chicago blues. There are swing numbers, blues standards and originals in this infectious and inviting set that’s mostly instrumental with a few vocals on the highly recognizable tunes. Violinist Ethan Adelsman is the bandleader and the one who contributes four originals to this debut. His handpicked chosen crew includes vocalist/harmonicist/songwriter Graham Nelson, guitarist/songwriter Mason Jiller. Bassist Oliver Horton, and drummer Noah Plotkin. You’ve likely seen Plotkin’s name on jazz releases as well as that on bassist Ethan Philion on appears on tracks here as well.
The program covers a wide swath of music that gives the frontliners (Adelsman, Nelson, and Jiller) many solo opportunities. These musicians all have eclectic backgrounds that span several genres, as you’d expect with their instrumentation and material. Let’s take the originals first. The album kicks off with Adelsman’s “Annie & Me,” a swinging gypsy jazz tune where he, Nelson, and Jiller trade lines and Philion weighs in with a brief double bass solo that cedes to Nelson and Adelsman before both ride it out. Jiller “Metal Bird” is a minor blues featuring fine picking from the guitarist and beguiling violin set to a tricky rhythm pattern. Again, all three of the melodic instruments express themselves. Adelsman’s “Don’t Force It” is a more restrained mid-tempo tune features inspired interplay between the three lead instruments, as each states the melody and contrapuntal lines throughout. Adelman’s “Boiano Campobasso” may be the closest tune to the revered Django in the set. The brief “Helen’s Theme” has the violinist and harmonicist in syn on the lovely melody while Nelson, who penned one of this year’s best song titles, “Weapons of Mass Distraction,” leads the quintet in a raucous blues closer.
Bowmanville puts their own spin on extended take of “Georgia” with an invigorating, cut from a different mold vocal by Nelson, who also contributes an especially potent harp solo. He later performs “Saint James Infirmary” in his similar off kilter phrasing trademark style. They render an elegant take on “Fly Me to the Moon” with Nelson’s vocal a bit more restrained by still a bit south of crooner style as the violin, harmonica, and guitar alternate leads in their customary fashion. Instrumentally they render a unique, exotic, bordering on psychedelic take on Ellington’s “Caravan,” a nice feature for Horton and Plotkin. Adelsman takes the highly lyrical route on “La Vie En Rose” with his unison passage with Nelson at the beginning especially striking before the band gathers momentum and swings it mightily.
Surprising, uplifting, and thoroughly enjoyable, this debut is keeper and hopefully will be just the first of many more.
- Jim Hynes
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